Journalists’ Roundtable

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Join us for another edition of the Journalists’ Roundtable, as local reporters recap the big news of the week.

Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's", Journalists' Roundtable, I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Mary Jo Pitzl of the "The Arizona Republic," Mike Sunnucks of the "Phoenix Business Journal," and Jeremy Duda of the "Arizona Capitol Times." President Obama traveled to Phoenix earlier this week to discuss homeownership and the middle class. Mary, anything earth-shattering in this particular appearance?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Not particularly earth-shattering. He did call for winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which have been troubled lending agencies. There's work already starting in Congress on that. He brought immigration into the equation and talked about how getting our immigration set straight will help homeownership.

Ted Simons: The idea of winding down Fannie and Freddie and asking for a bigger role for private capital in the housing industry, that was a bit of a surprise, wasn't it?

Mike Sunnucks: There's been some bipartisan support for getting rid of those. They have been around for a long time and have underwritten a lot of mortgages. There could be a lot of impact on things short and long term. It seems like a good idea right now because of the troubles during the real estate crash and the recession. But can the private market take over that? Will they be able or willing to take over that? It'll have a big impact on homeownership.

Ted Simons: Obviously the President was here a few years ago with some ideas. It took a while for those things to get traction. His critics will say they still haven't really done what they were supposed to do. With some of these new ideas, preserving the 30-year fixed mortgage, making it easier for some folks to refinance, how did all of this play?

Jeremy Duda: It depends who you ask. Even some economists who like a lot of what they heard say, "That's nice, let's see if you can get that through your Congress." I can see a lot of Republicans being very supportive of that, a lot of people blamed them in part for the housing crash. So that may be able to get through. Other things like allowing people to refinance homes at the current rate,that would need congressional approval. I think right now they're going to focus on the things they can do without going through Congress, like getting rid of some red tape, making it easier for people who have lost their jobs during the recession to get loans, that stuff will probably have some fairly broad support.

Mike Sunnucks: This President and this Congress haven't shown themselves as able to get very much done. Budget, debt reduction, obviously immigration has stalled again. They could do some executive orders. I think he just wants to get out of Washington, get away from some of the IRS scandal and talk about the economy, talk about the middle class, which has been a strong issue for him both as a president and on the campaign trail.

Ted Simons: The longest sustained applause from the crowd was on that reference to immigration.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Right. His point was that if immigrants are legal and they know they are safe and legal in this country, that they are more inclined to buy a home and create that kind of stability. The White House passed out statistics, talking points to many of the Democratic lawmakers who were there, that said immigrants contributed a 40% increase in homeownership over the last decade. A lot of those are probably Canadians, a different situation than immigrants from south of the border.

Mike Sunnucks: Allen Greenspan talked about this several years ago during the start of the recession when he was exiting. He mentioned this as a way to boost homeownership, to fill some houses that have been foreclosed on or sitting out there. There are some other folks that believe in this. The thing is, are we going to get immigration reform done this year? Looks like it's repeating itself.

Jeremy Duda: I was surprised that Obama brought that into the housing debate. The immigration reform has been stalled in Congress and the House for a while. I can't imagine tying this to the housing crisis is really going to get anywhere with people who have opposed it for a while. It's such a tricky issue, there are so many things that so many people disagree on. I don't really see how this advances the debate among the people you need to convince to get this passed.

Mike Sunnucks: You see some Hispanic activists out there protesting and complaining that he's not pushing hard enough on this, he hasn't been aggressive enough against the sheriff at times. And this administration has deported more folks than any other administration in the past. There's some frustration on the left with the Hispanic community, we're going through the same thing with immigration reform, and it looks like it's not going to get through this year.
Ted Simons: So the idea that immigrants means more homes being built, more homes being sold, more homes being rented, this sort of thing, we haven't heard much of that particular argument, but he did come with facts.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah, yeah, he did. I don't know, perhaps for those who want to see the economy improve and see a more stable housing market, maybe this helps to move the needle a little bit by stirring in the immigration thing to make people realize there are consequences, larger economic consequences.

Mike Sunnucks: I think the argument is if you legalize folks and they are citizens, their economic roots, financial roots, family roots will all be here, they may not send as much money back to their home countries. They're going to have savings accounts, bank accounts, they might invest, start a business, buy a house.

Jeremy Duda: You can see the housing crash debate going the other way. You saw so many immigrants, legal and illegal, leaving the state when people stopped building homes. If people start building, it would Maybe that creates more impetus for passing this.

Ted Simons: One last thing about the president's appearance, apparently there were no fingers wagged and pointed, apparently. But the conversation seemed to focus on getting federal aid up to Yarnell in that particular area. We just found out federal aid is not coming?

Mary Jo Pitzl: The very brief conversation, because Governor Brewer had really scant seconds on the tarmac to talk to the President, pressed the case for a decision on the State's request for emergency assistance for Yarnell. Today perhaps after a letter that came from Senator McCain urging action, FEMA came out and denied the state's request for individual assistance saying it has determined the state has it within its own wherewithal and charitable contributions and community support to handle this within the state boundary, without the need for federal assistance.

Ted Simons: Bit of a surprise there?

Mike Sunnucks: I don't really remember many of these things being denied and some things, such as a high-profile fatal disaster, you'd think they would have probably done it just from a public relations standpoint and out of the goodness of their own hearts.

Ted Simons: The Feds saying, "You can handle it on your own." Now we have a state lawmaker saying we may need to handle those seasonal workers who put their lives at risk and who die doing a job on state land, they have no other benefits. Talk about Speaker Tobin and the Yarnell Hill firefighters.

Jeremy Duda: Of these 19 firefighters who died, about 13 were designated as seasonal employees. No pension for their families, no health benefits, and for obvious reasons this is not sitting well with some folks, including Speaker Tobin. He's talking about running some legislation and possibly trying to get the Governor to call a special session. Whatever it is, they have to imagine this is going to be very popular on both sides of the aisle. Tad Campbell, the House Democratic leader, was talking about wanting to work with Tobin on this. Governor Brewer was talking about how distressed she was with these firefighters.

Mary Jo Pitzl: But we don't know, they haven't figured out exactly what to do, where does the State come in to provide backup for local -- in this case, like a local community such as Prescott, who says they don't have the financial wherewithall to cover death benefits for these 13 who weren't full-time employees. You feel -- start to get into all kinds of questions of, well, is it only for death? Firefighting can take tolls in lots of other ways besides killing you.

Ted Simons: And where was this argument back when the seasonal workers who put their lives on the line were signing these deals to be seasonal workers without benefits?

Mike Sunnucks: Kind of a piecemeal type system for fighting fires here in the west. Resources, equipment, McCain and some lawmakers have asked for surplus equipment from the Pentagon. You have folks that are volunteers, semi-volunteers, professional firefighters, people that come in, seasonal folks. It's just a patchwork that probably needs to be addressed at some point.

Ted Simons: Will there be opposition to this, do you think?

Mary Jo Pitzl: At least in the early stages it has the trappings of the legislation right after the Tucson shootings. They came back into session and passed on a bipartisan basis a bill to prevent protesters from showing up at the funeral in Tucson. They moved that through really quickly. I would suspect this would get that same kind of treatment.

Ted Simons: You mentioned possibility. How likely is a special session to go through for that?

Jeremy Duda: Next year might be long time to wait. I don't think the Governor had spoken with Speaker Tobin yet. She saw news reports forwarded to her staff, and hey, maybe we need to do something about this. If Tobin wants to bring people back, the Governor may be fairly amenable.

Mike Sunnucks: If it's sooner rather than later, then the whole special session, if it can wait, they will work on it right away in January.

Mary Jo Pitzl: There are other efforts, financial fund-raising drives to help out the families, if that's enough to at least tide them over until early January.

Mike Sunnucks: That's why the FEMA declining the request is kind of a surprise, considering the nature and all the attention to it. They approve a lot of disaster requests from a lot of states. It was a surprise they turned this one down.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's for individual assistance, not for mopping up after a big flood. These are people who don't have insurance. My colleague, Mary K. Reinhart, was saying demographically there is a much greater elderly population there and the rate of poverty is much higher than statewide. You've got some really stressed-out communities there.

Ted Simons: Jeremy, who is Carlisle Begay and where does he live?

Jeremy Duda: He's the new state senator for District 7 up in Northern Arizona and he lives in Gilbert, or at least he has for the last seven and a half years. That's not sitting well with some folks, especially Representative Albert Hale who lost the appointment out to him. He was appointed to replace Representative Jack Jackson, Jr., who recently resigned to take a federal job. Begay claims he splits time between Gilbert and Apache County, where his other address is listed in Ganado. He was registered to vote in Gilbert for a long time and just re-registered in Apache County a few weeks ago. He was recently appointed just this past session to the Gilbert Industrial Development Authority. He was never sworn in because they haven't had their next meeting yet. But one of the qualifications is you have to be a qualified elector in Gilbert, which means he wouldn't have lived in Apache County, wouldn't have met the residency requirements. Now Representative Albert Hale got a lawyer going to court trying to overturn.

Ted Simons: Who is Representative Albert Hale, and where does he live?

Mary Jo Pitzl: He is from Saint Michaels, he is a former president of the Navajo nation, he served in the senate for eight years then he was termed out, he ran and has been in the House, applied for the Senate vacancy. He argues that, "Hey, at least I'm somebody who lives in the district." The rub with Begay: the law says you can only have one place of residence for purposes of voting. The Constitution says you have to live in the county which you are going to represent for one year before you're elected. Begay wasn't elected, he was appointed. He has only been a registered voter in Apache County for three weeks, not a year.

Ted Simons: The supervisor in Apache County is supposed to be responsible for appointing these people. You would think they would check to see where they live.

Mike Sunnucks: It's happened before with other lawmakers who split their time. He's telling folks, I'm a professional; I work in the Phoenix area. I'm a member of the Navajo Nation, that's where my ties are. I'm interested to see if this goes to court if this changes the rules at all, or if the courts find some gray area, or if it's a black and white thing, we hear you voted in Gilbert, you can't serve there. He will argue, hey I have multiple residences, and maybe that he's a member of the tribe could help his cause.

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think he'll be arguing the distinction between -- you must be a resident of the county for one year before election. Well, he wasn't elected, he was appointed. And what is the constitutional requirement? What will the law and judges say about that distinction?

Jeremy Duda: Ironically Albert Hale's attorney is Tom Ryan, who you last saw challenging Representative Darren Mitchell's residency qualifications.

Ted Simons: It's awfully hard to find where state lawmakers live anymore.

Jeremy Duda: We haven't driven up for Apache County to see if there's a mattress on a floor anywhere.

Ted Simons: Another question, Jeremy, who is Christine Jones and why does she want to be governor?

Jeremy Duda: Why does anyone want to be governor? Christine Jones is the former general counsel and executive vice president of Go Daddy. She left the company last year and is looking to take a stab at the ninth floor. She just filed her committee to run in the Republican primary, which is starting to get a little bit crowded. She's kind of an unknown in the political scene. She's never run for office. I don't know how deep her ties go. People are wondering if she's willing to spend a lot of money on this, if she can get a lot of traction from the business community, which is already divided with some of the other candidates.

Ted Simons: What do we know about her politics? Any elected public office experience at all?

Mike Sunnucks: I don't think so. She's pretty well unknown. Her name was thrown about that she was going to support something statewide. Doug Ducey ran for treasurer and now he's going to run for governor. A lot of folks will say run for something else besides governor, put that on your resume, and then you have this business experience. Plus, you have statewide experience getting elected to office. Go Daddy got bought out for $2.25 billion by a bunch of private equity firms last year. She might have got a pretty good payday from that as being one of the executives there. She is going to have to spend a lot of money. One of the big advantages is she's the only woman in the GOP field. That would give her an advantage against the half dozen guys out there.

Ted Simons: Does that give her an advantage, especially if she is not particularly conservative enough? You've got a lot of folks in the primary on the Republican side. There are certain hurdles you're going to have to cross. What do we know about her politics?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I don't know where her personal politics are, so I can't speak to where she falls on that political spectrum. If you just look at a photo of candidates, the fact that she's female will stand out. That will matter with some segment of voters. Hopefully what will matter more is what she says and what she believes, not her gender.

Mike Sunnucks: The picture will help, she's different and people will maybe take a look at her. She's got business experience. But if she favors abortion rights, her stance on same-sex marriage, stance on immigration, stance on guns, those are all third rail items in the GOP primary.

Jeremy Duda: Not much is known about her position. Some of my Republican sources were kind of raising their eyebrows over her saying nice things about Hillary Clinton, talking about the need for both cuts and revenue increases with regard to the fiscal cliff in Congress, talking about climate change.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Things that the broad electorate might actually like.

Ted Simons: Could you have so many folks on the far right fighting and battling each other out, and she's in the middle or the center, does that help her?

Mary Jo Pitzl: You could say the same for Scott Smith, if the Mesa mayor gets in.

Ted Simons: Everyone and their brother seems like they're in on this thing.

Mary Jo Pitzl: If they're a current office-holder, they're sitting in the wings exploring.

Mike Sunnucks: That kind of Republican is really not around much anymore in our state. If she's a viable candidate with a lot of money, personable, smart, she could make some waves. She could very much a newcomer and struggle.

Jeremy Duda: Can she put together a good campaign? She's got a guy who's worked for a number of big nationally-known Republicans to run her campaign. Beyond that, a lot of people are wondering if she can fundraise. It's not unheard of to see a businessperson with no experience in elected office getting elected governor. We did that in 1990 with Symington. But he had very deep ties to the Republican Party, he was the finance chairman. He had been making connections for years. A lot of people aren't really sure if she has that.

Mike Sunnucks: A lot of people have talked about Bill Post, APS, Pinnacle West. He's retired, chairman and CEO. He was on a lot of boards, all the Greater Phoenix Leadership stuff on education. That's how a business person usually does this. You get out and work the community and your name's out there, people know you. People don't know her really at all, so that's going to be a big challenge for her.

Ted Simons: People do know Will Cardin. He was last seen running in the Republican Primary for Senate, losing big to Jeff Flake, but he's back and says he wants to run for secretary of state. Some see that as a de facto run for governor, the way things work out in Arizona. What's with that race? Who else is involved?

Mary Jo Pitzl: We have Senator Richelle Reagan who's exploring. We have Representative Justin Pierce is exploring. We also have Representative Steve Montenegro, who is also exploring. All basically exploring because of the resign to run law. That's on the GOP side. There are a few names rattling around on the Democratic side.

Ted Simons: Is Terry Goddard considering, have you heard that?

Mary Jo Pitzl: I think people are considering Terry Goddard, I don't know if he is in.

Ted Simons: Back to Cardin, we know he has the money and can spend the money. Secretary of State Race is statewide. He's already got statewide recognition because he ran against Flake.

Mike Sunnucks: You're right, but he got spanked really hard in that primary. Maybe he learned his lesson, he has money. The family has name recognition. The family makes contributions to the medical field, the community, charitable causes. He's pretty well known in the east valley. Maybe he's mended some fences and he might have an advantage from name and money in the crowded field.

Jeremy Duda: He got stomped in that race last year, but that was a much different race. Jeff Flake was a six-term incumbent, very well-known, a lot of big money interests lining up behind him. Cardin was considered the underdog from day one. Coming into this, he has to be considered the favorite from day one. He spent $6.2 million to run in a race where he lost the primary by 48 points. If he's willing to put $2-3 million into this race, I can't imagine he won't run away with it. Some people are starting to wonder if some of these candidates that are exploring might consider other races.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Can't you hear the opposition campaign saying, "So, you're going to try and buy your way into the Secretary of State's office?" We have higher contribution limits that will probably kick in to make that easier to achieve.

Jeremy Duda: They've got to get the message out.

Ted Simons: We've gotta stop it right there, thank you so much. And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Mary Jo Pitzl:Arizona Republic, Mike Sunnucks:Phoenix Business Journal, Jeremy Duda:Arizona Capitol Times

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